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The Incredible Eugene Gardner Collection, part 2: Famous Coins in the June 23rd Auction

Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #228

A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds for CoinWeek.com ……..

As was said in part 1, incredible is the right word to describe the collection of Eugene Gardner. Now, after many of Eugene’s coins were auctioned by Heritage on June 23, it is time to report upon some of the treasures that have emerged. Several famous coins will be discussed here in part 2. Some less expensive Gardner Collection coins will be covered in future parts, including type coins that are or would be demanded by tens of thousands of collectors.

gardner_thumb_2Although this auction contained a mix of important true rarities, astonishing condition rarities, wonderful type coins, particularly important representatives of better dates, and more than a few very disappointing coins, the auction was very exciting overall and the atmosphere was intense for hours. The total realized was about $19.6 million, a substantial amount for a single-consignor offering that did not include any gold. There will be additional sales by Heritage featuring coins in Eugene Gardner’s Collection, the next of which will occur in New York in October.

On Monday, June 23, the auction started shortly after 3:00 PM. Admittedly, I did not arrive until after the copper coins were sold. I was so drawn to the coins while viewing at the Heritage offices on Park Avenue, I found it impossible to promptly rise and travel to the auction site, the Fletcher-Sinclair Mansion, 2 East 79 St, in New York City, near Central Park.

Although not among the most famous coins in this auction, more than a few of Gardner’s Barber Quarters were mesmerizing. These will be addressed in a future discussion.

It is worth mentioning here that Eugene’s 1901-S quarter sold for $258,500. It is true that the PCGS graded “MS-68+” 1901-S sold for $327,750 in March 2010, a coin which I discussed in detail. Several coin enthusiasts prefer Eugene’s PCGS graded “MS-67” 1901-S to the PCGS graded “MS-68+” coin, as it is more original and is more exciting for additional reasons.

Those currently interested coin enthusiasts who recently read the article that I wrote in 2010 may have learned that Eugene’s 1901-S was earlier in the epic collection of James A. Stack, Sr. (JAS) and was auctioned by Stack’s in 1975. The colorful, natural toning pattern has not substantially changed in the interim, and the underlying original luster is terrific. Although the $258,200 result was a little strong, this coin is worth a premium, largely because of its coolness and originality. Indeed, this is a legendary 1901-S quarter, which is the leading key date in the series of Barber Quarters (1892-1916).

There will be more Barber Quarters in future sales. Generally, all the Gardner sales include duplicates, especially of Liberty Seated and Barber coin issues, which are Eugene Gardner’s favorites. Indeed, as was emphasized in part 1, Gardner amassed the all-time greatest collections of Liberty Seated Quarters and Barber Quarters, plus epic sets of other denominations of Liberty Seated and Barber coins.

Although two Chain Cents are discussed herein, the focus here is on silver. Classic (pre-1934) U.S. silver coins, especially those dating from the 1830s to around 1916, constitute the core of his collection, and Gardner’s collecting achievements will often be reflected upon in the future. Gardner’s nickel coins, which are noteworthy, should be addressed in a separate inquiry. The present discussion is about famous coins and the nickels auctioned on June 23rd, however desirable, are not famous.

I. Hayes-Whitney-Gardner 1796 Dime

The highest price in the sale was for a 1796 dime, which sold for $881,250. I was expecting other coins discussed herein to sell for more than this coin, especially the only known Proof 1823/2 quarter, the Eliasberg 1876-CC Twenty Cent piece, at least one of the Chain Cents, and the Proof 1827/3 ‘Original’ quarter. The Hayes-Whitney-Gardner 1796 dime, however, topped them all in this auction. It became the star.

1796_jr1_10c_p67cacAdmittedly, the obverse (front) is beautiful, with a frosted Miss Liberty and incredible green and blue, even toning. Further, this dime is at least semi-prooflike and is very much alive. It definitely captures the attention of the viewer.

This is “a very nice coin, astounding in every respect,” Scott A. Travers says. Travers is the author of The Coin Collectors’s Survival Manual (NY: Random House). Scott is also a coin consultant who examined coins that were in this auction.

When I first saw this dime shortly before the Stack’s auction of the John Whitney Walter Collection on May 4, 1999, I was enraptured by the color on the obverse. Unfortunately, the Stack’s auction of the landmark Jimmy Hayes type set occurred ‘before my time,’ in 1985.

This dime was recently PCGS graded “MS-67,” and it has a CAC sticker of approval. PCGS has graded one 1796 dime as “MS-68,” which I never saw, at least not in a holder with a “MS-68” grade. This Hayes-Whitney-Gardner piece is the only 1796 that is currently PCGS graded as “MS-67.” Before this auction, the PCGS price guide value was $300,000 and the numismedia.com value for a “67” grade 1796 dime was “$220,000,” levels which were too low. I was figuring that a moderate auction result would be $350,000, a strong price would be above $400,000, and $550,000 would be very strong. I was stunned by the result. Although the PCGS price guide valued this coin at “300,000,” this same guide valued the “68” PCGS grade 1796 at “$500,000.”

As the Jan. 2007 PCGS Population Report lists just one 1796 dime as “MS-67,” which cannot be this Hayes-Gardner piece, and zero as grading “68,” a likely possibility is that a previously certified “MS-67” 1796 was upgraded to “68,” years before this Hayes-Gardner coin was upgraded from “66” to “67.” In fairness, however, my tentative recollection is that some experts who attended the Whitney sale in 1999 were figuring that this dime would be likely to be certified as “MS-67,” if submitted in 1999 soon after that auction.

Before June 23, the auction record for a 1796 dime was $299,000. Ed Price’s NGC certified “MS-67*” coin was sold on July 31, 2008. At that time, markets for rare coins were literally peaking, the climax of a cycle. The same Ed Price coin was auctioned for $253,000 in April 2009, when coin markets were bottoming. “Both sides have fully reflective, prooflike fields around frosty devices, imparting a splendid cameo appearance,” declares Mark Borckardt in the Heritage catalogue of the Ed Price Collection.

The obverse of the Price Collection gem is not nearly as beautiful as the obverse of the Hayes-Whitney-Gardner piece, though the reverse of the JAS-Price piece was more spectacular. The reverse of the Hayes-Whitney-Gardner piece is, though, more sharply struck. Indeed, the eagle on the reverse of the Hayes-Gardner piece has tremendous detail.

Also, it might be true that the Price piece failed to be CAC approved. The CAC population report, though, does indicate that the PCGS graded “MS-68” 1796 dime has been CAC approved.

Three 1796 dimes are CAC approved as grading MS-66. A Newman Collection piece is one of them.

In Nov. 2013, Eric Newman’s best 1796 dime sold for $188,000. It was then NGC certified as “MS-66+” and was later PCGS certified as “MS-66,” without a ‘plus’ indication. This gem Newman 1796 just makes the 66 grade and is not in the same league as the Hayes-Whitney coin, though it is more than very attractive.

In any event, the sale of the Hayes-Whitney-Gardner 1796 will certainly be remembered for decades. Unlike some of the other very valuable coins, 1796 dimes are intensely demanded by collectors who are assembling type sets. Dimes of the Draped Bust, Small Eagle type were minted for only two years, and high quality 1797s are much rarer than high quality 1796 dimes. Besides, 1796 is the first year of dimes and the first year of a novel denomination has great historical significance, especially since the use of the decimal system for coinage was path breaking in the 1790s. Europeans then thought that the decimal system was peculiar and not appropriate for coinage.

II. Chain Cents

Of the three major varieties of Chain Cents, the first one is the most highly demanded, as these are the first U.S. coins. Chain Cents were minted for just a few months in 1793, before being replaced by Wreath Cents.

1793_gardner_ameriThis first variety is easily recognized as the word ‘America’ is abbreviated as “AMERI.” The “AMERI.” Chain Cent in this auction is PCGS graded MS-63.

In my view, this Chain Cent is strictly uncirculated. The “EAC” grade of “AU-50” probably stems from the frequent practice of specialists in die varieties of early copper coins to deduct points from the initially formulated grade because of imperfections in the planchet, prepared blank on which the coin was struck. The numerous indentations in the surfaces are not bothersome; these add character to the coin and sort of appear like artwork, though, of course, were unintentional. Early American copper specialists should be more concerned about coins being deliberately modified to deceive people than about curious mint-caused imperfections.

In any event, the PCGS grade of “MS-63” is fair enough. This coin is uncirculated and is very much original. The $440,625 result was weak to moderate. Travers disagrees. He regards this result as “strong, a princely sum for a princely coin.”

Other than the one that is certified as a Special Striking (SP-65), this is the highest graded ‘AMERI.’ (Sheldon-1) Chain Cent by PCGS. The next piece is certified as “MS-61.

In Sept. 2009, the Goldbergs auctioned the Dan Holmes, PCGS graded “AU-58” piece for $368,000. The Holmes AMERI. Chain Cent was given an “EAC” grade of AU-55, probably by Bob Grellman. In my view, the Gardner piece is just slightly superior to the Holmes ‘AMERI.’ Cent.

The AMERICA ‘No Periods’ variety is much less rare. It is true, though, that many buyers of Chain Cents just demand one Chain Cent and are not particularly concerned about the variety that is acquired. Gardner’s second Chain Cent is PCGS graded “MS-64.” There will never be widescale agreement regarding the grade of this particular coin.

In my view, although it has too much friction for a 64 grade, the “EAC” grade of “AU-55” is not accurate. There are not significant scratches or planchet defects. Moreover, the friction is slight and is very ambiguous. Maybe a grade of “62+” would be suitable. This coin certainly scores well in the category of originality, which is important given all the treatments and modifications that early copper coins often receive.

The $396,562.50 result for the PCGS graded “MS-64” Gardner Chain Cent seems appropriate. This coin is clearly of higher quality than the Husak Collection, PCGS graded “MS-62” AMERICA Chain Cent that Heritage auctioned in Feb. 2008. It is similar in quality to the Dan Holmes coin that the Goldbergs sold for $402,500 in Sept. 2009. Although that Holmes ‘AMERICA’ Chain has little or no friction, the Gardner piece scores higher in the category of originality, which is measured in relative terms.

Extremely few, pre-1800 copper coins are anywhere near being 100% original. As copper experts know, a pre-1800 copper coin can legitimately grade MS-66 or even higher without being fully original. Multiple factors are incorporated into a coin’s numerical grade.

III. Glenn-Gardner 1802 Half Dime

The Glenn-“Thomas”-Gardner 1802 half dime realized this same price, $352,500. A phone bidder beat Jason Carter to capture this coin. This same coin, while PCGS graded EF-45, was auctioned by Heritage for $195,500 in April 2009, when coin markets were at low points of a cycle.

When coin markets were rapidly rising, in April 2006, this same coin was auctioned for $299,000, which was the auction record for an 1802 half dime. DLRC reported, however, the sale of the Parmelee-Pittman-Price coin for $345,000 in an Internet-only event during March 2008. So, the current result for the Glenn-Thomas-Gardner coin is clearly a record for an 1802 half dime.

While the Gardner 1802 was PCGS graded EF-45, it had a CAC sticker. After it was upgraded to AU-50, it may have failed to be CAC approved. The assigned 50 grade, though, is fair enough. In my view, this coin is clearly superior to the NGC graded “AU-50” Parmelee-Pittman-Price 1802.

For an 1802 half dime, the Glenn-Gardner piece is excellent, perhaps awesome. Survivors tend to have multiple serious imperfections that are mint-caused, negligently caused, and/or deliberately caused. I have only seen one 1802 that is clearly superior to this Gardner piece and reliable sources suggest that at least one other, the Garrett 1802, is clearly superior as well.

IV. JAS-Gardner Proof 1822 Dime

1822_10c_gardnerAt lot viewing sessions, almost everyone was in agreement that the JAS-Gardner Proof 1822 dime is one of the greatest coins in this sale, if not the greatest. It is just stunning. “I love the coin, marvelous, beautiful toning. This dime is sensational,” Travers exclaims.

Pre-1840 Proof silver coins are extremely rare, pre-1825 Proofs even more so. This dime is PCGS certified as “Proof-66 Cameo” and is CAC approved. It was a centerpiece of the James A. Stack, Sr. Collection of dimes, which is the all-time greatest collection of dimes, superior to that of Eliasberg or Norweb. Also, while there probably exist just two or three Proofs, more than three hundred 1822 business strike dimes survive.

I was figuring that $175,000 to $225,000 would be weak, a $250,000 result would be moderate, and a $325,000 price would be strong. Scott Travers thinks otherwise. He finds the $440,625 result to be a “moderate price.” In my view, it is very strong.

V. JAS-Battle-Gardner 1871-CC Quarter

Eugene Gardner’s 1871-CC quarter was in the Battle Born Collection of Carson City Mint coins that Stack’s-Bowers auctioned in Aug. 2012. Earlier, it was in the epic collection of James A. Stack, Sr., who was not related to the family that operated an auction firm.

Honestly, in 2012, I graded this 1871-CC as “65.8 or higher” and, during the last few days, without checking prior notes, I graded it as “66.1.” It is impossible for anyone to very consistently grade coins within a third of an increment. I am not suggesting that anyone take grades to the tenth of a point very seriously. I enjoy grading coins.

In a post-auction review on CoinWeek in 2012, I said, “$345,000 is a very strong price. I was [then] expecting a price in the range of $225,000 to $250,000.” This time, it sold for even more, $352,500.

VI. 1876-CC 20¢ Piece

1876cc_20c_gardnerThe Eliasberg-Gardner 1876-CC Twenty Cent piece was PCGS graded as “MS-64” a long time ago. It is very famous and extremely rare.

This coin has ultra-smooth, pretty, creamy thick “toning” in the obverse inner fields, between the stars and Miss Liberty, and, on the reverse, in some open areas near the eagle. Considering that it seems to be very attractive overall and the apparent absence of imperfections in the fields, a coin enthusiast might wonder, after a glance, if this coin merits a 66 grade. The texture of the fields, however, is very different from that of the other 1876-CC 20c pieces that I have seen. (Clickable links are in blue.) I have been studying them for many years.

The surfaces on the others are naturally rough and there are particular kinds of mint-caused imperfections in the fields of 1876-CC Twenty Cent pieces in general. When I tilted this coin at various angles, and used a magnifier, I sensed that much was being covered by colorful creamy stuff in the fields, which is probably not natural toning, at least not entirely. In the 19th century,  it was not unusual for collectors or dealers to apply wax to coins, and other explanations are plausible.

This 1876-CC “is not a premium quality coin in any respect, ” Scott Travers declares, “no aspect” of this coin is premium quality. In its current state, I predict that it would not be CAC approved at the MS-64 level.

In my roster of 1876-CC Twenty Cent pieces, I am temporarily ranking it as grading ‘62.’ All 19th century coins have imperfections. Most people would regard the colors on this coin as being very pretty.

The $470,000 result is probably very strong. If there are no significant imperfections underneath the creamy stuff, however, this might possibly be an excellent purchase, especially if the creamy stuff turns out to be a substance that can be and should be safely removed.

VII. Unique Proof 1823/2 Quarter

All 1823 quarters overdates. There are no ‘normal date’ 1823/2 quarters. Around thirty business strikes are known, though just one Proof, which was auctioned on June 23rd. Among very expensive items, this coin was the best value in the auction. This 1823/2 is PCGS certified as ‘Proof-64,’ and has a well deserved CAC sticker.

Eugene H. Gardner
Eugene H. Gardner

A $400,000 result would have been weak; a $500,000 realization would have been moderate, and $600,000 would have been a strong price. A $750,000 result would not have been shocking. There could not be more than six different 1823/2 business strikes that are PCGS or NGC graded above EF-45. Eugene Gardner has one of the most highly certified business strikes, an NGC graded MS-61 coin, with a CAC sticker. The NGC Coin Explorer indicates that NGC has graded an 1823/2 as “MS-62,” though I do not know which one. It seems that the unique Proof 1823/2 is of a higher numerical grade than all known business strikes.

This Proof 1823/2 sold for $396,562.50, a bargain. The buyer is not a dealer. The buyer prefers that his name not be publicly mentioned in regards to this coin and he agreed to be vaguely referenced as a collector from the Midwest.

It is puzzling as to why this coin did not sell for much more. Part of the fun of analyzing auctions is to reflect upon the surprises.

©2014 Greg Reynolds



Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds has carefully examined a majority of the greatest U.S. coins and most of the finest classic U.S. type coins. He personally attended sales of the Eliasberg, Pittman, Newman, and Gardner Collections, among other landmark events. Greg has also covered major auctions of world coins, including the sale of the Millennia Collection. In addition to more than four hundred analytical columns for CoinWeek and at least 50 articles for CoinLink, Reynolds has contributed hundreds of articles to Numismatic News newspaper and related publications. Greg is also a multi-year winner of the ‘Best All-Around Portfolio’ award from the NLG, as well as awards for individual articles, a series of articles on the Eric Newman Collection, and for best column published on a web site.

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